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Archive for February 19th, 2009

I’m still neck deep in work and Alpha Hex, but I do find time here and there to prowl around on the web, looking for interesting game design related articles.  Sometimes I use them as springboards for articles here, sometimes I just bookmark them for future perusal as I do my own thing.  This collection is a little of both.

Mike Darga has an interesting game design blog up, and when I found him quoting Daniel James of Puzzle Pirate fame, I had to bring attention to it:

Players don’t just give you money

This is especially relevant now, as Puzzle Pirates has an annual Easter egg design contest.  This is the third year that I’ve helped with it, since the eggs themselves are rendered in Max, and I work with Max and Maya professionally, while most people don’t have access to it.  It’s nice to turn some of my expertise to helping other people.  It’s purely voluntary, and a lot of fun.  I’ve even written a few tutorials (I’m Silveransom over there) to help other people try their hands at rendering and egg designing.  I may not subscribe to their game (though I do buy doubloons on occasion), but I’m paying them in attention and volunteer service to the community.  (I’ve also participated in many contests in the forums, and one of my egg designs wound up in the game.  I’m having fun, and in the process, helping build the community of the game.)  In the wake of the microtransaction hate and official forum whining in the industry, PP is a haven for greatness.

Trentish has an interesting article up (I think Tobold pointed me to it) regarding the community in MMOs.  I’ve not actually read the whole thing, but I’m sure I’ll agree with some things, and disagree with others.  Still, it looks like a good read, and in the interest of having a link and passing it on, here it is:

MMO Community Enhancement

Advertising in games has been ramping up lately, so Gamasutra has an article digging into it a bit.  It’s interesting to me because a friend of mine suggested that WoW was initially meant to be advertising-driven, rather than a subscription model.  I’m not sure how that would have worked, but I can happily say that I’d not mind that monetization scheme… at least, if done well.  It would fit “The Agency” better than WoW, for example.

Advertising in Games

Brian “Psychochild” Green has written about the concept of “legitimacy” for the game industry as a whole.  Gamasutra again has a bit of coverage, and Brian’s site hits it a bit more.  I tend to think that the industry has to grow up and stop considering puerile interests as being the height of “maturity” (thanks, ESRB, for misusing the word “mature” and undermining the industry!).  Also, asking to be considered as “legitimate” all too often comes across as whining, when we really should just be making excellent games.  (Brian doesn’t whine, by the way, but I’ve read others who do.)

Legitimacy for Game Developers

Brian’s blog about the same

Then there are the articles on rapid development that caught my eye, since I’ve been working on Alpha Hex, itself a bit of rapid development.

Raph Koster

Armor Blog

Raph’s comment about paper prototypes hits home, since I built a paper and matboard mockup of Alpha Hex before I ever submitted it as a game design.  I wanted to see if it would play well, so I tested it out on my family.  My siblings and wife liked it, so I figured that it was at least worth further consideration.  (That’s not always going to be true, since family usually is nice about these sorts of things, but their enthusiastic reception and watching them play gave me feedback on how the mechanics were working, which is what gave me a sense of where I should go with the design.)

Armor Games are the guys behind Sonny, the fun zombie JRPG flash game.  Developing in Flash is interesting, as you’re in a pretty tight box in a lot of ways, but as such it also allows for a more standardized approach which cuts down costs and expands potential userbase.  The trick is monetizing Flash game development, which is where sites like Kongregate come in, as Gamasutra points out:

Where’s the Cash for Flash?

Tangentially, there’s also the XNA development idea, making small games for the XBox 360 and PC with their proprietary language.  These guys are a good portal for learning about that:

XNA Creator’s Club Online

I’ve been interested in this sort of smaller game lately, and how it might intersect with MMO design.  Given our discussions around here (and over with Wiqd) regarding a Harvest Moon Online, I’ve been thinking of how it might fit into a low-budget architecture.  Developing in Flash is one way to make that happen.  Raph’s Metaplace would be another potential publishing avenue.

Other than that, there’s this little Gamasutra article about closed captioning, and more philosophically, about designing games for those with handicaps.  (Or “physical limitations” or whatever the current PC term is.)

Subtitles

If you peruse the Alpha Hex wiki, you might find this page where addressing the needs of color blind players wound up altering the design of the tiles.  (That discussion was in emails, actually, but the idea of using both color and icons to denote the elemental properties came directly from the need to be able to play the game if you can’t distinguish colors well.)  Puzzle Pirates is very good about catering to that audience, given their puzzle design and their endorsement of alternate graphics for when they just don’t quite nail it down with their in-house design.  You can’t always design for everyone, but with games becoming more mainstream (if not necessarily more “legitimate”), the player base will have more people for whom color blindness or lack of hearing will be an issue.

Player input is another place where this pops up, since not everyone will have a mouse, or will be stuck with a lame touchpad or thumbstick on a laptop, and keyboard controls should function easily and intuitively.  Similarly, when dealing with consoles, not everyone has the same manual dexterity, and streamlining the controls themselves (as well as providing customizability or keymapping) should be high on the priority list.

One special case of that sort of input concern is the quick time event.  Nailing the timing on a quick time event is one thing, but when it becomes a memory check of the controller layout requiring insane manual dexterity, it can detract from the game simply because you’re expecting a metagame skill, rather than a skill developed in the game itself.  A couple of links:

Tired of Quick Time Events

Scourge of Quick Time

Everyone’s Favorite Crutch

I wasn’t terribly fond of them in Kingdom Hearts 2, since they tended to distract more than add to the game.  Looking way back to Dragon’s Lair, a game almost entirely based on Quick Time events, it’s more fun to watch those sorts of things than play them.  That’s a sign that something is awry in the game design.

So yeah, this has been a bit of stream of consciousness, but there are things here that I’m keeping in mind for my own designs, so with luck, there’s something in here that can help others, too.

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